Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: BRC Gastropub (Houston Burger Week)

Those of you who read about the Tillamook Love Loaf  Tour and their working with Houston Burger Week knew that the Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Chili Cheese Dog Burger from BRC Gastropub was on my radar this week, so I headed over to the Heights and found them on the left hand side of Shepherd Northbound just above Memorial Drive at the corner of Shepherd and Blossom.  This was also my first Visit to BRC--they'd been on my short list of places I needed to visit, and Houston Burger Week was a good time to go.  I was especially stoked to eat and to review one of the Tillamook burgers they created with BRC's Chef Lance W Fegen.

But first some notes: the term Gastropub is a portmanteau of gastronomy and pub.  It originated in Britain in the late 20th century. British pubs are drinking establishments with little emphasis was placed on the serving of food.  If pubs served meals they were usually basic cold dishes such as a ploughman's lunch. In South East England (especially London) it was common until recent times for vendors selling cockles, whelks, mussels and other shellfish, to sell to customers OUTSIDE of pubs during the evening and at closing time. Many mobile shellfish stalls would set up near pubs, a practice that continues today in London's East End.

The term "gastropub" was coined in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in Clerkenwell, London. The concept of a high end restaurant in a pub reinvigorated both pub culture and British dining,  though it has occasionally attracted criticism for potentially removing the character of traditional pubs.  The gastropub phenomenon took off in the United States in the 2000s at gastropubs such as restaurateur and chef Sang Yoon's Father's Office, which had what Esquire magazine called one of the best burgers in the world,  Ford's Filling Station in Culver City, a gastropub run by actor Harrison Ford's son Ben Ford, and of course Beaver's over in the Heights district of Houston, Texas.

What is also of note is that BRC has a fine Weekend Brunch Menu, which includes salmon potato cakes with eggs and tomato fondue; as well as a coop style burger that includes eggs, potatoes, and chili con Queso, and banana stuffed French toast. They also have a version of Poutine that includes a duck leg, fries finished in duck fat and gruyere cheese rather than fresh cheese curds. Furthermore, they have a good tap list that includes good selection of local craft beers and imports, as well as a wonderful selection of bottled beer.

Now without further ado, here is your burger blueprint:

Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Chili Dog Burger
1/3 lb ground beef patty
Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Chese
BRC Pub Chili
a butterflied hot dog
Sweet Jalapenos, Pickled Onions and Iceberg lettuce
on a locally sourced bun
served with Herb-salt French Fries in a little fry basket

The Chili in and of itself is a meal.  It is spicy, cuminy, meaty and full of great flavour.  The butterflied hot dog is meaty and juicy--looks almost like a British pub sausage.  The peppers sweet & spicy, the patty cooked to juicy perfection.  And although it was very messy, it was a delicious mixture of sweet, heat, savoury & crunchy flavours and textures.  A real winner all the way around.

The BRC staff was attentive, but not overly so--my iced tea was refilled in a timely fashion and callbacks were made, but weren't excessive.  The restaurant dining room was quite clean, as was the kitchen from where I sat. The speed of service on the burger was a little slow--however,  I was one of the first customers in--and I figure it may have been less geared towards brunch menu since it was a special item.  According to Josh (one of the managers on duty) it is  based on an off-off-menu item that is a staff favourite.  After eating it I can see why.  It was worth the wait.  And I can say with pride that taste of the chili alone lingered in my mouth for hours afterwards like those old 90s tunes that played as I ate. I definitely recommend the burger & the brunch at BRC Gastropub.  Also of note:  I like the soft ice they have for the iced tea--kind of like Jerrybuilt Burgers.

The atmosphere of BRC is like an Ottowa corner pub meets a Houston hipster bar combined with a Montreal Bistro. Classic rock blared from the sound system while I took in the red Fleur de Lis pattern on the walls of the booths and the tattoos on the neck of the hostess. The Staff is dressed in nice jeans and collar shirts, but there are plenty of tattoos and piercings as well--kind of like Yuppie/Hipster fusion. While enjoying my burger, I spotted a family of older folks with university aged Kids enjoying brunch, and I also spotted a tower of oddly coloured cakes at the bar across from the taps.  The rooster motif is present EVERYWHERE in Ansel Adams style black & white framed lithographs all around the booths and a reclaimed scrap metal sculpture on the largest table in the centre of the dining room. FYI:  BRC stands for Big Red Cock--the synonym of Rooster to you dirty minded readers!

The Foodie Professor's Report Card for BRC Gastropub:
Burger: A+
Frites: A
     Friendliness: A
     Speed: A-
Cleanliness: A
Atmosphere: A

Overall grade: A

BRC Gastropub is located in The Heights at:
519 Shepherd Drive (corner of Shepherd and Blossom)
Houston, TX77007

Lunch:  Monday thru Frriday 11 AM to 2 PM
Dinner: Saturday thru Sunday 5 PM til last person leaves
Brunch: Weekends, 10 AM to 2 PM
Happy Hour:  Monday thru Friday 4 PM to 6 PM.

And Remember:
Eat Happy!!!
Zao an, Y'all!!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Houston Burger Week: Saturday April 28 through Saturday May 5

All corporate logos are copyright and the property of their owners/respective parent companies.  Any photos that are not attributed are from Hank Lewis and/or

The Event
What do you get when you combine chefs like Bryan Caswell and Lance Fegen with Tillamook Cheese? Some pretty amazing burgers. To celebrate some of the best burgers in Houston Tillamook Cheese’s Loaf Love Tour has partnered with five of our best local restaurants for burgers in Tillamook Burger Week. During Burger Week, which runs from April 28 – May 5, each spot will offer a unique burger special featuring award-winning Tillamook Cheese.  FYI: the Tillamook Cheese Loaf Love Tour is in it's third year and you can check the website linke above for tour dates and locations this summer.

Houston Burger Week Participants:

Little Bigs
I've already reviewed Little Bigs, but I will definitely come back during Burger Week for their Hanging Slider: a Yeast bun, Tillamook Medium Cheddar and Caramelized Onion perfection ($2.50 for 3).

BRC Gastropub
I've not yet been to BRC Gastropub, but it has been on my list.  So this upcoming week is as good a week as any to give their Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Chili Dog Burger – with Sweet Jalapenos, Pickled Onions and Iceberg lettuce this is one burger you won’t soon forget. ($13) Before the burger don’t miss the Tillamook Pepper Jack Pimento Cheese appetizer served with Warm Tortilla Strips. ($9)

The Burger Guys
TBG is an ongoing favourite of mine that I visit at least once a month.  They have the bragging rights to Best Burger in Houston on my top burgers list (see right sidebar) and have been on A LOT of other such lists since they opened in 2010.  They're making a Tillamook Betty - 1/2 lb. Akaushi beef with Cinnamon Nutmeg Aioli, Bread and Butter Pickled Braeburn Apples, Arugula, and Tillamook Sharp Cheddar served on a Challah bun. ($10).  As a big fan of Challah bread, not to mention Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Akaushi Beef.

Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar
Again, another restaurant I have not been to as yet, but has been on my list is participating in the Tillamook Cheese Love Loaf tour. Chef Lance Fegen’s new venture is making a splash with top-notch comfort food. You won’t be able to resist their Burger Week Special - The Rodeo Clown Reuben – a combination of Brisket, Chicken Fried Steak, Hot Dog, Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, Tillamook Pepper Jack, Sweet Jalapenos, Malt Slaw, Tomato, Pickles, 1000 Island and Chile con Queso on Pumpernickel. ($18) This sounds really, seriously, deliriously tasty and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.   Also as an appetizer, it is recommended you try the Maryland Blue Crab & Tillamook Pepper Jack Pimento Cheese Dip with Warm Tortilla Strips. ($12)

Beaver's Gastropub
My kids and I enjoyed a lovely Sunday Brunch at Beaver's not too long ago. This popular gastropub fused with a Texas ice house serves up some “dam fine” food. Go for a great time, fun drinks and an epic burger. Beaver’s has created a Tillamook Ice House Burger – made with Tillamook Pepper Jack Cheese, Beer Battered Pickled Onion Rings and Cornmeal Fried Jalapenos, topped with Beaver’s house-made BBQ sauce, served on locally made TX Toast. ($13)

I will of course be following up on this with reviews, photos and details on these tasty burgers with this wonderful brand of cheese.  Truth of the matter is, I've been a fan of Tillamook Cheese for a long time.  I lived in the Seattle area due to a job move away from Houston between 1997 and 1998, and got hooked on this particular brand of cheese from Oregon.  When I moved back to Houston, I did not see it in grocery stores here until many years later.  Tillamook has recently been on a national campaign to bring their tasty cheese to the whole country and I for one am quite happy about this.  Of course I would be even happier if Tillamook brand ICE CREAM were brought to Houston.  Dreyer's, Bryers and even BlueBell can't beat their Mountain Blackberry or Huckleberry ice creams.... I'm getting hungry now...

I'm the Chef--My Tillamook version of The Hank on Food Brunch Burger
Folks, if I could have a burger named after me at any local place, here is how it would be put together from the bottom up:

  • Bottom part of the Pretzel Bread Bun
  • A slice of Tillamook garlic white cheddar cheese below the patty
  • 1/3 lb of Angus or Akaushi Beef cooked to true medium, seasoned with a mixture of Cumin, Tumeric, ground cayenne Pepper, Sea Salt, ground black peppercorn, paprika and Worcestershire Sauce
  • A slice of Tillamook smoked extra sharp cheddar cheese on top of it
  • Grilled Vidalia Onions
  • 3 thick slices of Applewood smoked bacon
  • A fried egg over medium
  • A leaf of Romaine Lettuce
  • 2 slices of Beefsteak Red Tomato
  • 5 Wickles Pickle Chips between the top 
  • Garlic Aioli
  • Top of the Pretzel Bread Bun
Now I can hear a whole bunch of Foodies griping that it's too busy, I'm trying to thrown in everything but the kitchen sink, yadda yadda yadda.  And if you feel that way, you are entitled to your opinion.  Personally the texture of the pretzel bread, the buttery sweet nature of the beef, the chewy smokiness of the bacon, the confluence of the aforementioned seasonings, the smooth yet sharpness of the two cheeses, the sweetness of the onions, the crunchiness of the veggies, the texture of the egg and the tartness of the garlic Aioli blend together perfectly according to my taste buds.  Anyhoo, that burger is one I try to put together at The Counter sometimes when I go there.

My plan is to start with BRC Gastropub and Liberty Kitchen Oyster Bar first, as I've not visited either of them and owe them each a review.  I will catch at least one more during the week as well.  I will also be paying extra visits to 24 Hour Fitness to work them off.  I will blog about each burger, with photos and vivid descriptions after each visit.

And remember:
Eat Happy!!!
Zao an, Y'all!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: Union Kitchen Memorial

Paul Miller, restaurateur and Chef Juan Arellano partnered back in 2010 to open Union Kitchen on Bellaire Boulevard.  They opened to great reviews but were in many ways a largely undiscovered treasure that circulated mainly by word of mouth.  Fast forward 2 years and now their reputation of making colossal burgers and enticing appetizers called Hawaiian Tostadas, mixed with a nearly always full parking lot has had them on my radar for some time.  Jack Tyler gave them a fabulous review last month.  I finally broke down after a student of mine mentioned that they'd opened a location on Memorial Drive and Tallowood in a strip mall next to a Rice Epicurean market and I read their Lunch menu.

Per their website:
The aforementioned Colossal Union Burger
The Idea: While at Purdue my meeting spot with friends and teammates was the student union. I want the connotation of the name to be a place to come together with friends and family. Obviously we have to have good food and drink to bring our friends back.
The Concept: “Our concept is global cuisine. The Chef and I go to the farmers market twice a week to source out the freshest ingredients, and develop the most appealing menu possible.”
Our Slogan: Global Cuisine with Southern Hospitality
Okay.  I'm sold.  Off I wentto pay them a long over due visit, but I ended up visiting them twice in a week as I had their Union Burger for lunch and then had a Sunday Brunch with them as well.  So without further ado here are your meal blueprints:

Lunch Visit:
The Union Burger:
A half-pounder stacked with Thick Cut Onion Rings, topped with Cheddar, Swiss, Pecan Smoked Bacon and Smoked BBQ Aioli on a Whole Wheat Bun

Jack Tyler Dines gave The Union Burger a good review and I agree with him on it wholeheartedly.  This was a big meaty burger.  I ordered mine medium and it was cooked to a proper medium--hot pink center, slightly charred on the outside, some mostly brown juice coming out, not dry.  The vegetables were quite crisp and fresh, not mushy and the meat was well seasoned, but not overly so.  The pecan smoked bacon was thick, crunchy and semi-sweet.  The onion rings had some kind of sweet onions that were non-sulphury, but I couldn't find out if they were Texas Sweet Yellow Onions or Vidalia onions.  Whatever is the case, they were HUGE and quite delicious.  The house-made potato chips were quite crispy and not salty.  Overall a very satisfying and enjoyable lunch.

Brunch Visit:
Tejas Eggs Benedict:
Masa Cake Topped with Chorizo Potato Hash, Chipotle Hollandaise, Poached Eggs & Cotija Cheese

Garden Omelet 
Fresh Herbs tossed with Shallots, Garlic, Mushrooms, Tomato, Avocado & Swiss

The Union Breakfast:
2 Eggs your way, Choice of Pecan Smoked Bacon, Canadian Bacon, or Sausage Patties, Potato Hash and choice of bread
Tejas Eggs Benedict and Garden Omelet

The Tejas Eggs Benedict were just fabulous.  The Poached egg had a runny yolk and the umami-protein sense of the eggs melded well with the spicy sweetness of the Chipolte Hollandaise sauce and the savoury, spicy saltiness of the chorizio and the potato hash.  A real winner and a nice twist on Eggs Benedict.

The Garden Omelet had very fluffy egs folded over the vegetable mixture.  The fresh herbs gave the Omelet a nice garden freshness that worked well with the mushrooms and Swiss cheese.  The Avocados were properly ripe--very green, soft, but not too soft.

My kids shared The Union Breakfast and had 2 pancakes for their bread.  Everything was properly cooked, proper temperature and was completely eaten up.  We were also pleased that the Union Kitchen was serving REAL Maple Syrup and not that Maple-Flavoured High Fructose corn syrup junk that some restaurants serve at breakfast.  (This is a pet peeve of mine:  if you say Maple Syrup on your menu, it better be the REAL STUFF.  Otherwise you are LYING to your customer).

All dishes were beautifully plated and served hot, as well as promptly.

Service Notes:
On both visits I found the staff to be professional, attentive but not excessively or annoyingly so.  The staff is mostly dressed all in black much like Cactus Club Café and other nicer, high-end restaurants these days.  A manager was visible, circulating and helping support the staff, who were consistently backing each other up and making sure that drinks were kept filled and food was delivered promptly.  

Memorial Location,
former site of The
Hunan Empress
The Foodie Professor's Report Card on The Union Kitchen:

The Union Burger: A
Tejas Eggs Benedict: A+
Garden Omelet: A
The Union Breakfast: A

     Speed: A+
     Friendliness: A+

Atmosphere:  High End but not too frou-frou, a solid A

Overall Grade:  A

I intend to visit The Union Kitchen again soon in order to try their small plates and give a report on them.

The Union Kitchen has two locations.  I visited the one at:

12538 Memorial Dr.
Houston, TX 77024
T. (713) 360-2000

Mon-Thurs 11 am - 10 pm
Fri & Sat 10 am - 11 pm
Sun 10 am - 9 pm
Sunday Brunch - 10 am - 2 pm

And Remember:  Eat Happy!
Zao an, Y'all!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Event: BLU Sugar Land Media Sampling

As promised in this months Odds and Ends posting, I went to Blu in Sugar Land's Town Square on the evening of Wednesday, April 11th.  While I have had to try to keep that old Eiffel 65 song out of my head, it makes my mind think about how some folks are saying Asian Fusion cuisine is sweeping into Texas from such places as Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver BC, and New York.  The truth of the matter is that Houston has a 30 year plus history of good Asian cuisine, and Asian Fusion has been going on here for more than a decade with places like Burger Tex serving up a Bulgogi burger and so forth.  Blu's menu has some great variety and nice surprises as well.
Blu Frontage in Sugar Land's Town Square

About Blu:

Per their Website:
Eating at BLU is like taking a journey to another country because the flavors are so authentic. Our Executive Chef Junnajet Hurapan, a native of Bangkok, Thailand, won the “Best of the Best” Chef Award from Excellent Culinary, now a part of the American Culinary Institute. He now represents a major coup for the Houston culinary scene. Jiraporn Hurapan, Chef "Jett's" wife, is the pastry chef at BLU. Chef Jett and Pastry Chef Jiraporn prepare everything in-house from scratch and only with the freshest ingredients.
This was a smaller event than others I've attended, but I don't consider that to be a bad thing.  A writer from The Houston Press, a writer from Spoon, 5 local bloggers and a reporter from CW Channel 39 were present along with their various plus ones.  Chef Jett was present telling us about the dishes that were being served family style in a fashion that allowed our party to taste a good variety of what he felt was representative of the breadth of his dishes, including a few of his signature specialties.  Chef Jett was very affable and was quite proud of all of his dishes.  The owner, Amy Karnani was also present to answer questions and discuss various attributes of Blu.  All in all it was a nice evening, a lovely dinner and everyone was happy with the meal.

So without further ado, here are the dishes we sampled this lovely evening:

Tequila Ceviche
shrimp-scallop, tomato-avocado relish
Lamb Samosa
crispy wrap w/ herb, spices & ground lamb
Shu-mai Shrimp
Shrimp Dumplings with water chestnut, garlic oil, ponzu sauce
Edamame Dumpling
tapioca wraped edamame in seasoned truffle butter  
Meatball Lollipops
sweet chili glazed beef meatballs on a stick

Shu-Mai Shimp, Tequlia Ceviche, Edamame Dumpling, Lamb Samosa, Meatball Lollipops

My Take:  The appetizers were all nicely plated and full of a nice variety of different flavours.  The ones that had the most complex and satisfying mixes of savory, peppery, spicy, umami and crunch were the Lamb Samosa, the Edamame Dumpling (truffle butter only enhanced the flavour) and the Meatball Lollipops.

Grade: A-

Blu Asian Salad
Crispy calamari , frisee, napa, crisp wonton, creamy miso dressing 

My Take: Vegetables were fresh and crisp.  The Miso dressing was creamier than I've had at Japanese restaurants and sushi bars.  The crunchy fried Calamari is an unexpected Mediterranean twist that added texture and flavour to the whole salad.  Very nice surprise.

Grade: A

Main Dishes:
Grilled Chili Rack of Lamb
Tomato-jalapeno salsa, smoked-chili vinaigrette
Charcoal Grill Sirloin Steak
in a Spicy Chili-cilantro chimmichuri sauce
Massaman Beef Short Ribs
Braised ribs w/ spice, potato, peanut, coconut-tamarind
Tuna Tataki
Spice rubbed charred rare tuna, citrus soy and sizzling oil
Crispy Fish
3 flavor crispy filet whole fish w/ tamarind, chili and basil
Tamarind Cashew Chicken
Stir fried with bell pepper, scallion, roasted chili, tamarind sauce and cashew nuts
Hong-Kong Fried Rice
Jasmine rice w/Chinese sausage, egg, scallion, cashew nut, soy, chicken

Grill Sirloin, Chili Rack of Lamb, Tuna Tataki, Massman Short Ribs, Crispy Fish

My Take:  Chef Jett outdid all my expectations on this tasting menu.  The Grilled Chili lamb-chops were tender, spicy, sweet and full of flavour.  The Massaman Beef Short Ribs were fall off the bone tender & buttery, and the sauce had a mixture of peanut and curry flavours that made it seem like a Thai style twist on Beef Pot Roast.  The Tuna Tataki was like a fusion of Tuna tar-tare, Ceviche and sushi--very fresh fish, very colourful sauce and veggies, and satisfying.  Those three stood out by far.  The Crispy fish was also quite tasty and satisfying.  The steak, Cashew Chicken and Hong Kong Fried rice were also quite good.

Grade: A 

Chocolate Cappucino Martini
Cookie crumbs, chocolate & cappuccino mousse, & caramelized banana 
Blue Handrolled Chocolate Truffle
Flavors of dark chocolate, champagne, pistachio & almond
Banana-Run Raisin Bread Pudding
Vanilla ice cream, caramel & chocolate sauce
Yin & Yang 
Vanilla bean & chocolate crème brulee, & walnut biscotti
Molten Chocolate Cake
Drunken cherries, raspberry coulis, & vanilla ice cream
Frozen Treat
Two ice creams or sorbets, mixed berries, & vanilla shortbread cookie
Yin & Yang, Bread Pudding, Chocolate Truffles, Molten Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cappucino Martini

My Take: 
Although Chef Jiraporn did not make an appearance at our table, her presence was strongly felt in an excellent mix of very fine desserts which combined a nice mixture of European and Asian sensibilities.  My personal favourites:  the Chocolate Cappucino Martini--a great blend of creamy, crunchy, chocolate, coffee, bananas and cream to give the mouth and taste buds a variety of textures and flavours that were not too sweet;  The Banana Rum Raisin Bread Pudding which was chewy, had a nice hint of cinnamon and went well with the vanilla ice cream;  Yin and Yang were both sweet, but not overly so, had a nice mix of the vanilla, chocolate, berries, and were nice  on a walnut biscotti.  The other desserts were also quite good.

Grade: A+

These Media Events for new and exciting restaurants are a lot of fun as they give people from TV, radio, print and online Food Media a chance to sample new cuisines and dishes, meet the chefs and entrepreneurs/restaurateurs that create the food and the businesses, and give us a chance to share these places with the general public.  At the same time, they are kind of a nice social engagement--gives those of us who write, broadcast or blog about food a chance to talk shop, relax a bit and swap stories face to face rather than via the Internet or other media.  I got to meet Patty & David, a reporter from Spoon Magazine, and a few other local foodbloggers I'd not seen at such events before.  Also, I am very grateful to Chefs Jett and Jiraporn, and to Amy Karnani for inviting all of us out to Blu for such a sumptuous meal.  I can promise you, dear readers, I will be back.

Blu is located in Sugar Land Town Square
2248 Texas Dr
Sugar Land, TX  77478
281 903-7324
Dining Hours: Tue-Sun 11 AM to 10 PM
Lounge Hours: Wed-Sat 10:30 PM to 2:00 AM; Sun 10:00 PM to Midnight

And remember to Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Blu on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique

UPDATE: Sugar Baby's has closed as of Summer 2013 and it's old address is now Mainely Sandwiches.  

After a visit to Cako Bakery last year on a trip to San Francisco, my daughter Helena has developed a real love for gourmet Cupcakes, as have a lot of other foodies out there.  My daughter will call my attention to them when we are at Safeway-owned Randall's Flagship, or passing some other bakery that has them prominently featured.  A bit of crack research led me to find out about Sugarbaby's Cupcake Boutique and I decided to treat my daughter to a special surprise during Spring Break.  I meant to write this review sooner, but the stuff of being a professor and the appearance of Bernie's Burger Bus sidetracked me for a bit.

Sugarbaby's has been around in Houston since July of 2007 and are the first Houston Bakery to specialize exclusively in cupcakes.  Per their website:
Sugarbaby’s cupcakes are made fresh daily from scratch. No mixes or cake bases here. Several of our recipes are old family recipes, and we use only the finest ingredients in all that we do. We select premium dutch and black cocoa and gourmet chocolate from companies like Callebaut and Guittard. The only vanilla you’ll find in our store is the best Madagascar bourbon vanilla out there – not that imitation stuff. We use organic carrots in our 24 Carrot Cake and vanilla bean in our Va-Va-Vanilla cake. We hand dip chocolate covered cherries to top our Velvet Rouge. There’s no shortening allowed in our store…so when we say we top our cupcakes with buttercream, we mean it – good old fashioned butter, confectioners sugar, and real vanilla. We also don’t bake with additives or preservatives, so that not only means there’s NO LEFTOVERS from the day before in our store but also that you don’t want to wait too long to enjoy your desserts (but who could wait with a cupcake on their mind anyway!)

Pink PrincessOur menu has something for everyone. Whether you are a traditional cake person or like your desserts a little more on the adventurous side, we’ve got a flavor you are sure to love. Plus we like to change up our selection of cupcakes and desserts fairly regularly to keep the assortment in tune with the seasons and our customers’ suggestions and preferences. We want you to have a reason to come back and try something new!

Today's selection of cupcakes
Finally, each Sugarbaby’s cupcake is its own little work of art. Our fabulous team of bakers and pastry chefs take pride in creating desserts that are as appealing to the eye as they are to the stomach. We welcome the opportunity to create a custom dessert selection to match your specific theme, but we also put as much love in our everyday cupcakes as we do in our special order designs, because they are ALL special to us!
With a write-up like that from the owners, I'm sure more than a few people are already hungry.  My daughter and I ended up enjoying a Homeroom Burger from Bernie's and then decided to finish it off with cupcakes from Sugarbaby's.  I got a Chocolate Truffle Cupcake while my daughter got a Red Velvet Cupcake.     So without further ado, here is your dessert blueprint:

Our cupcakes are on the left...
a plain chocolate and carrot cake
for someone else is on the right
Chocolate Truffle Cupcake:
Chocolate cake 
filled with whipped chocolate ganache, 
topped with chocolate buttercream, 
dipped in dark chocolate 
and topped with chocolate curls

Red Velvet Cupcake:
Rich classic red velvet cake 
with traditional cream cheese frosting 
and a hand-dipped chocolate covered cherry on top

See how deep that Ganache is filled!!!
Helena had a glass of milk with her cupcake and I enjoyed a cup of Coffee (Katz's).  We each sampled some of eachothers' cupcake.

First of all:  WOW!  I say it again WOW!!!  The chocolate cake used in the Chocolate Truffle Cupcake is very moist, not too sweet and quite good as is.  The mousse-like chocolate ganache is smooth, sweet and melted in my mouth.  The Dark chocolate topping is crunchy and semi-sweet.  It goes well with coffee or or milk to be sure.  The Red Velvet was also moist, sweet and complemented the milky cheesy taste of the cream cheese frosting nicely.  My daughter gobbled up the hand dipped chocolate covered cherry before we even sat down!!!

Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the cupcakes and agreed that this would be nice for the occasional special treat.  I personally was impressed with the longevity of the business (5 years at same location in the semi-fickle inner loop West End area near Rice University) as well as with the appearance and layout.  You'll probably notice Pink is a dominant color at Sugar Baby's.  Someone I know in Interior Design informed me that marketing studies have shown that the color pink can make some people crave something sweet to eat.  Bravo to the owners of Sugarbaby's for such an intelligent design element.

The Foodie Professor's Report Card on Sugarbaby's:

Chocolate Truffle Cupcake: A+
Red Velvet Cupcake: A
     Speed:  A
     Friendliness:  A
Cleanliness:  A
Atmosphere:  A-

Overall Grade:  A Solid A

Sugarbaby's is located at:
3310 S. Shepherd
Houston, TX 77098

Store hours are:
Tues-Sat, 9am-7pm (or until they run out)
Sundays 11am-5pm(or until they run out)

And remember:
Eat Happy!
Zao an, Y'a'll!!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Odds and Ends

Hello readers!  I hope that everyone figured out that yesterday's posting "Beginnings and Evens" rather than "Odds and Ends" was an April Fools Day gag.  My apologies to anyone that thought Cactus Club Café was really opening a location in Houston.  I personally wish they would, but anyone with any common sense realizes that it would be silly for a company with its HQ in Vancouver, BC and all of its other locations in BC or Alberta to set up one very far remote location deep in Southern Texas in the US.

Now for a run down of some items for April:

1.  Jerry Built Burgers Woodlands Location Now Open

Just a reminder that Jerry Built Burgers location by the Woodlands Mall opened on Saturday March 31st.  I know a bunch of my Northside friends are happy and a bunch of folks braved the long line up the first day to taste their well seasoned high quality burgers, hot dogs, fries and other delicious items.  One thing I neglected to mention in my report a few days ago was that my 7 year old son, Jason, made a product suggestion to Brooksy Smith.  No promises or guarantees mind you, but Brooksy said he'd seriously try it out, but give him 30 days to see if its workable or not.  If it comes true, I'll mention it in the blog.

2.  Houston's First Del Taco has Opened

Del Taco at 8910 Westheimer
and Fondren
Del Taco is a fast food chain that sells primarily SW/Tex-Mex style food that is based on Southern California.  They have made a gradual expansion eastward and have more recently entered Texas to compete with local giant Taco Cabana as well as nationwide chain Taco Bell.  Del Taco was founded in Yermo, California in 1964.  It has its most visible presence in California where they are actually more popular than Taco Bell.  Del Taco does have a few odd items like Cheeseburgers, Chili-cheese fries and ice cream shakes, but its main line is Southwest/Tex Mex.  I've paid them a visit and find them to be a bit of a middle ground between Taco Bell and Taco Cabana.  Like Taco Cabana, their food is fresh tasting, they're open 24 hours and they have a good variety of menu options.  Like Taco Bell, they have a brightly coloured corporate look.  I've tried a few of their items so far and will be writing a break down on them soon.  Their location is at 8910 Westheimer Road, near Fondren Dr.

3. 1st Annual Houston/Austin Beerfest Woes--Hopeful for 2nd Annual to Improve

Last summer Houston had it's first Annual Beerfest.  I was interesting in coming but personal issues prevented it.  Much like the  first annual Haute Wheels festival at HCC West Loop last year, the Houston Beerfest had major issues between wait times, parking, running out of product, etc.  Those that attended blame the organizers.  The Breweries blamed the organizers.  The organizers blame everyone else.  The Houston Press has a detalied account of similar problems at the first Annual Austin Beerfest.

My take?  First annual events typically have all kinds of bumps in the road.  There are learning curves.  For example, I heard the first day of Haute Wheels, the food trucks tried to do too many products and kept on running out of food on the first day.  There were issues with electricity and other such problems.  The 2nd day, the food trucks went with simplified menus, organizers changed how they approached things, they gave the attendees a heads up on what to expect wait wise and suggestions on how to have a more enjoyable experience and the whole festival went much smoother.  It's my hope that the 2nd Annual Houston Beer Fest and Haute Wheels run more smoothly after getting up the learning curve.

4. Blu in Sugar Land

Word through the Foodie Vine is that there is a New Euro Asian Fusion restaurant that had a soft opening on Sugar Land Town Square by the name of Blu.  (Cue Eiffel 65 technopop)  Per their website:

Eating at BLU is like taking a journey to another country because the flavors are so authentic. Our Executive Chef Junnajet Hurapan, a native of Bangkok, Thailand, won the “Best of the Best” Chef Award from Excellent Culinary, now a part of the American Culinary Institute. He now represents a major coup for the Houston culinary scene. Jiraporn Hurapan, Chef "Jett's" wife, is the pastry chef at BLU. Chef Jett and Pastry Chef Jiraporn prepare everything in-house from scratch and only with the freshest ingredients.
Menu selections include small bites, tapas, dumplings, soups, salads, main plates, rice, noodles and a wide range of Thai variations. BLU’s experienced Executive Chef Junnajet “Jett” Hurapan and his wife, Pastry Chef Jiraporn Hurapan, prepare all dishes in-house using fresh and local ingredients. Their mission is for diners to savor innovative culinary creations, delicacies and delicious libations. Patrons will enjoy performances ranging from late night DJ’s, conga drum players, bands and soloists.
“We chose to open BLU in Sugar Land Town Square because we are from the area and dreamt of bringing something different to this incredible development,” says BLU Owner Amy Karnani. “We noticed that Sugar Land lacked a place where people could go and enjoy a feast of the senses – a unique mix of food, music, art and performance. BLU fills that void in the market.”
Blue is Located at 2248 Texas Drive.  Chef "Jett" as he is affectionately known was a big hit at Gigi's here in Houston, after having worked over the East Coast  at Ruby Foo's in New York and Buddakan in Atlantic City.  Apparently Blu opened in January of this year.  Now they are doing a full on media event.

While some folks may grimace and say "Okay.  Another Pan Asian-Western Fusion place like Uchi and Nabi."  My response is "Not so fast!"  Uchi and Nabi may be Pan-Asian, but they are distinctly different.  Uchi seems to be a mix of Japanese, Latin and French, while Nabi is a fusion of Korean and Southern/Texan.   Chef Jett's specialty is Thai and based upon the menu, it reads like a fusion of Thai, Vietnamese, Tex-Mex and Japanese.  Personally, I am looking forward to a preview meal that Blu is providing for the local media and will, like I did with Uchi, Nabi, Dulce Bakery and Jerry Built Burgers, be providing  you my dear readers with my takes.

5.  $10,000 for a Spaghetti Story?  Really?

I recently read on Robb Walsh's blog that Skinner Pasta has an essay contest where they'll pay $10,000 for an essay on a Spaghetti memory of yours. t If this is true, I may finally become a paid writer after all...  It needs to by 250 word or less... then again, I have a problem with being verbose...  Just saying...

Parting Shot

I want to thank the folks at Cactus Club Café for being good sports about my April Fools Day prank, saying they were opening a Houston Location.  I cannot overemphasize enough that I am VERY FOND of the food at Cactus Club Café, that the service there is top notch and I always recommend anyone I know that goes to visit the Vancouver, BC area or Lower Mainland of BC in Canada stop by there at least once while they're there.  My prank was partly done out of wishful thinking on my part.  I'd love Chef Rob Feenie to open a place here in Houston, even if it weren't Cactus Club Café but were built around our local cuisine instead.  Anyhoo, if I disappointed anyone else over the prank, I apologize.

And remember:
Eat Happy!!!
Zao an, Y'all!!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Beginnings and Evens


Greetings Readers!  April has begun and there is no shortage of things for this Foodie Professor to talk about.  So let's get started:

Chef Rob Feenie of
Cactus Club Café
1. Cactus Club Café opens in Houston, TX.  

That's right Houston Foodies!  The Vancouver, BC headquartered high end West Coast Asian European Fusion "House of Yes" has taken over a spot near Westpark and the Sam Houston Tollway and will be opening it's doors this month.  Celebrity Top Chef Rob Feenie of Vancouver, BC is very excited to be opening in the Bayou City.

"I realize it seems odd to have a location so far from our main cluster of restaurants.  However, Houston is home to a number of wonderful restaurants, close to many great farm and seafood sources, and has a very strong food culture.  The fit is perfect and with such great food bloggers as Hank on Food, HTown Chow Down, Jack Tyler Dines and Dude, are you going to Eat That?, I expect our opening will be as big, if not bigger than Uchi was just a few months ago."

Three of my Cactus Club Café favourites:
Four Mushroom sirloin, with Asparagus;
Prawn-Scallop Spaghettini;
White Chocolate Cheesecake
As a huge fan of Cactus Club Café (I go to the Burnaby-Kingsway location every year I visit Vancouver, and have every intention of visiting the English Bay location this Summer), this could not be more welcome news.  As a huge fan of their 4 mushroom sirloin steak, their signature Caesar cocktail, Rob's Flatbread, and  their White Chocolate Cheesecake, among other dishes, this is very welcome news.

Chef Feenie has also indicated that they are developing special Houston-only items for the Westchase location which will be all locally sourced and "reflect the culinary and cultural diversity that is Houston, Texas."  I expect some Southern, Pan-Asian, Latin and Cajun fusion will be served up deliciously.

Prior to their official grand opening date (not finalized yet), a Media Event will take place (I've been invited along with other Houston Foodbloggers, local media, etc.) to taste many of their dishes and provide a preview of Houston's House of Yes.  Rest assured, I will probably be there and will need to exercise every day for a month to work it off.

2. Pink Slime Protest Goes to the Dogs

That does NOT look appetizing
After the protests by consumers successfully got many chains of grocery stores and burger joints to remove Finely Textured Ammoniated Lean Beef (a/k/a Pink Slime) from ground beef, apparently Pet owners are protesting its inclusion in pet food.  According to the USDA, Pink Slime was from cuts of beef that was largely used in dog and cat food.  However, if legions of Dog Owners and members of PETA have their way, it will no longer be included in Animal Food as well.

A large number of dogs, cats, parakeets, a ferret, some hamsters and  a whole herd of Guinea Pigs protested outside several plants that process canned dog food around the country this morning.  They carried signs such as "Woof means No Pink Slime in my Food!!!" and "If you put pink slime in my canned food, I'll use your legs as a Scratching Post!!"  Right now executives at Alpo, Purina and Hartz have been strangely silent.  IAMs has gone on record, however, that they've never used ammonia treated beef in their dog food and never will.

From where I sit, it looks like Alpo will only include meat and no more meat byproducts in its canned food, which is probably for the best.

3. Upcoming Events

I'm planning on taking things down a notch in order to save money.  Rather than review high end limited chains and great local places, this month I'm going to focus only on the cheap big guys out there.  I'm going to review several school cafeterias, several grocery store delis, nationwide chain buffets and new dishes at Denny's.  I realize that's a major departure from my usual M.O., but sooner or later, cash gets tight and the only way to keep this blog going is to downgrade.

Sorry folks. Times are tough and I need to economize as much as the next guy.

4.  One last note

And remember:

Eat Happy, not Crappy Y'all!!!